Playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s new battle royale mode Blackout is both familiar and strange for anyone into the genre. The game is split between frantic gunplay and methodical movement. I’ve had a lot of fun with it, but its fast pace doesn’t match the battle royale experience I’m used to.
There’s two kind of people playing Blackout: people who are good at Call of Duty and people who have experience with battle royales. The first group runs around recklessly, making noise and taking surprising risks. Sometimes, this makes them easy targets, but their skill can cash any check their risk-taking makes. Playing against these foes is some of the most fun I’ve had in a battle royale. It’s possible to flank them or trick them into exposed positions just as much as it is to underestimate them and get pulled into a quickdraw showdown that you can’t win.
Players familiar with battle royales and the more cautious pace of games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds can leverage their meta-game knowledge into a different kind of advantage. If you see someone playing at the edge of the circle or lingering by a rock, it’s safe to say they’ve played a battle royale or three. But their assumptions about how a battle royale should flow inevitably blows up in their faces if they make it to the top ten, where aggressive player tendencies make positional play difficult. These players invariably last longer that their twitch-shooter peers, but they’re still in an adjustment period.
Blackout’s faster pace and cleaner gunplay eschew some of the roughness that initially defined the genre with PUBG, for good and for ill. Close combat engagements shine, while long range snipes and ambushes are more rare. Things are less deliberate, which removes some complexity. It has the same fast mid-game as Fortnite and the same military fetishism as PUBG, which means that although it is a familiar experience, I still don’t really think we’ve seen an actual alternative to PUBG in terms of pacing.
Some of this has to do with how Blackout handles inventory. On the one hand, it simplifies weapon customisation by attaching modifications and optics as soon as you pick them up. One the other, the inventory screen itself is a mess and can make it difficult to so something specific, like use a better quality med-kit. The result is that you just stockpile everything. It encourages a sort of scrambling from location to location, as you move about like the world’s most heavily armoured Roomba. It draws players to each other much faster, pulling them in to key hub locations far after their initial drop—which fills up the killfeed in the mid-game with alarming speed.
Blackout’s been a lot of fun, but adjusting to it as someone whose played a lot of battle royales—including an embarrassing amount of time in Radical Heights—has been a very strange experience. It’s a fast game that hits the require beats, that also carries a blistering pace and aggressive player-base that’s been refreshing.